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Ryosuke Nanjo clinches Japan Chess Championship 2024

by Sheldon Donaldson - 24/05/2024

Mayur Gondhalekar and his good friend, Sheldon Donaldson regularly keeps us updated about the Japan chess scene. Sheldon writes a blog about his experience playing at Japan Chess Championship 2024. The Canadian origin, currently residing in Japan, Sheldon's article is full of high quality photos and some interesting moments from his games. He loves playing, analyzing and making us enjoy various moments from his games. Check out his account of the tournament which took place in Tokyo, Japan. Did he manage to achieve his goal of scoring 3/9? IM Ryosuke Nanjo won the tournament scoring 7.5/9. FM Mirai Aoshima also scored the same. However, he had to be content with the second place according to tie-breaks. The top seed of the tournament, CM Tran Thanh Tu and IM Shinya Kojima scored 7/9 each. They were placed third and fourth respectively. Photos: Sheldon Donaldson

Upon the Mount Fuji of Chess

“When everything feels like an uphill struggle, think of the view from the top.” - Unknown

IM Ryosuke Nanjo standing on the mountain top

President Hiroshi Manabe (L) and Mr. Eduardo Tempone, Argentine Ambassador to Japan (R), present IM Ryosuke Nanjo with the Argentina Cup

Top ten

Back row L to R: 8th Tetsuo Higashino, 6th CM Alex Averbukh, 7th CM Kan Nakahara, 10th Shou Otsuka, 9th Kohei Yonemitsu.

Bottom Row L to R: 5th FM Kohei Yamada, 2nd FM Mirai Aoshima, 1st IM Ryosuke Nanjo, 3rd CM Tu Thanh Tran, 4th IM Shinya Kojima.

It's cold up here and the air is thin...

Greetings, my fellow mountain climbers, and welcome to another edition of the Osaka Papers. Mount Fuji with a summit elevation of 3776 m, is the tallest mountain in Japan. It holds iconic stature in Japanese culture and is sacred to the people of Japan.


Yet, there is another sacred mountain in Japan, a mountain that holds immeasurable importance to those who try to summit it. Upon this mountain blunders are punished with extreme prejudice, the weak and unworthy are simply left for dead, it is a mountain where the path to the top is only conjectural, it's summit is only large enough for one, and worse still there are monsters on this mountain... little monsters who have no mercy in their little black hearts.


The mountain I speak of is of course the Japan Chess Championship 2024 - the 25th Argentina Cup. For those of us who play chess in Japan this is the peak of our trade, it is here the top players come to do battle.


The tournament took place in Tokyo, Japan from May 2nd through 6th and brought together 79 players from across the nation, consisting of 9 rounds, games had a time control of 90 mins + 30 sec/move.


In deference to my rating and overall chess ability, I set myself the humble goal of 3 points...that shouldn't be too hard, right? Even a child could get 3 points out of 9, right?...O_o...


But, before we get to the games, how about a few pics to prove that any of this happened.

Mt. Fuji... if you squint real hard

The main playing hall

The second hall

The postmortem room

The Argentina Cup

A statue of Caïssa, goddess of chess... probably

A Tengu...demon of blunders and missed moves... probably

In round 1, I took a bye as I flew from Osaka to Tokyo and wasn't certain I could arrive on time. Round 2 saw me paired with a 2000 rated player by the name of Nakamura (No, not that Nakamura) despite not being the real Nakamura, he blew me off the board in under 30 moves. And in round 3, I was paired with a former women's champion of Japan, I was able to draw with her, but analysis revealed that under time trouble she missed a mate in three. Both games were interesting, but let us move to round 4, where a truly chaotic battle ensued. ensued.

Well, Well, Well...How the Turntables

“Wild - A Chaotic game where both players had many chances to win.” - That annoying coach who no one asked.

Round 4 took place the evening of the second day, and by this point I would say that I had truly settled into the tournament. My opponent was rated well over 100 points above me, and in such encounters, it is normal for players to be somewhat complacent, wrongly believing that a draw is the best they can hope for. I held the belief that I could beat any player rated under 1900. This proved correct. I could have beat them... but chess isn't about what you can do, it's about what you do.

In round 5, I drew against an opponent who was rated 100 points above me, it was an interesting enough game, where my opponent was able to get an advantage out of the opening only to squander it in the middle game, luckily for him my endgame play let me down and I missed a relatively easy win, but I have never been a fan of analyzing draws, so let us move on to something more compelling.

The Little Monsters

“We have nothing to fear but fear itself - and monsters.” - Richard Herring

Anyone who has played OTB chess has seen them - standing somewhere under 5 feet, they scurry around the playing hall like irate little urchins. Enthusiastic, eager and above all else highly motivated. I am of course speaking of every tournament player's greatest fear - Children. No one wants to be paired with a child, if you win, well, you just beat some child and if you lose people will say, "how could you lose to a child?", Because they are Monsters, that's why.


There were about a half dozen of them at this tournament. One of them beat an International Master, I saw a 9-year-old crush a player, who I haven't been able to beat in 7 encounters. My opponent drew against a Candidate Master in the first round. They are monsters that is all there is to it.


Here is an example of their attacking prowess taken from my round 6 match.

Matsunaga - Donaldson, Round 6

Position after 19...Bd7??

Black's last move gives away a free pawn, but what is the best path to a winning endgame? Can you play as well as a 12-year-old?

In round 7, I was paired with a much lower rated player, thankfully I was able to win, while in round 8, I was paired with a player rated in the mid 1900s, a game in which I lost. Both were intriguing in their own ways, but I think my final encounter of the tournament is much more fascinating, so let us proceed to the ninth and final round.

It's Not Over Until I Win

“Nobody believes in you, you've lost again and again and again. The lights are cut off, but you are still looking at your dream, reviewing it every day and say to yourself:  ‘It is not over until I win” - Les Brown

For the third time in three tournaments, I faced off against Dai Araki, a player who is mysteriously rated 1079 nationally, but internationally rated 1798...makes no sense?!


In any case, sitting on two and a half points, my goal was clear...WIN. The last time I came to the national championship I finished with two and a half points, so for me finishing on the same point total would be a repudiation of all the hard work I have put in throughout the last two years. But what if I don't manage to win...what then?

My tournament is finished but there are still goings-on to observe. One of the great things about OTB tournaments is witnessing the top players in action, and although my day is done the champion had yet to be crowned.

The Top Board

“One bad move nullifies forty good ones.” - Israel Albert Horowitz

As I said earlier, the top of this mountain is only large enough for one to stand upon. CM Tu Thanh Tran verses FM Mirai Aoshima: Tu was on 6.5 points and would need a win to assure victory in the tournament, Aoshima on the other hand, might be able to get away with a draw as he had 7 points.


Both are legends of the Japanese chess scene, having a FIDE rating of 2389 Tu is perhaps the highest rated Candidate Master in the world, while Aoshima is a professional shogi player (Japanese chess) and once drew against GM Anish Giri in an online simul.


As the tournament drew to a close and games ended, a substantial crowd began to form around the top board. Would it be Tu or Aoshima? Who would walk away with the crown of champion of Japan?


Oh and on board 2 IM Ryouske Nanjo was also on 6.5 points, so a win for him might end up being significant, but what is the chance of that?

IM Ryosuke Nanjo wins on tiebreaks...Well, well, well...How the TurnTables... I finished a solid 73rd place...O_o...

Deputy Chief Arbiter Mayur Gondhalekar received the FIDE Arbiter norm

L to R: SR winner - Tetsuo Higashino 6.5/9, Women's winner - Rikka Mitsuyama 4.5/9 and JR winner - Cocoro Matsumura 5.5/9

Final standings

Rk.SNoNameGrFEDRtgIRtgNClub/CityPts. TB1  TB2  TB3  TB4 
13IMNanjo RyosukeJPN236624677,5475141,7516787
22FMAoshima MiraiJPN238024667,546,55142,5016628
31CMTran Thanh TuJPN23892569752,55843,7517455
44IMKojima ShinyaJPN229924577465037,7516408
57FMYamada KoheiJPN219923096,546,55034,5016234
69CMAverbukh AlexJPN210922716,544,547,531,7516532
711CMNakahara KanJPN207021486,543,546,530,7516383
812Higashino TetsuoO-50JPN206221016,5424629,7516177
920Yonemitsu KoheiJPN198819726465031,2516712
106Otsuka ShouJPN222321216465030,2516692



And that was it that was the Japan Chess Championship 2024.


So, I finished with 2.5 points failing to attain my goal, what do I do now?


This mountain upon which we chess players climb is immense and calls for largeness of heart, it is cold, the air is thin, and let's not forget about the little monsters who inhabit it. Yet, ultimately, we climb it the same way we climb any mountain, one step at a time.


Even if I were to finish 80th in a 79-person tournament, I would still come back for more. I will never surrender; I will never stop. I did not attain my goal this time, so there is only one thing to be done - come back next year and get those points. As Les Brown would say, "It's not over until I win."


Congratulations to all the winners and participants and a big thank you to the staff, arbiters and volunteers for putting on such a well-run event.


As always thanks for reading, and feel free to share these games with your friends and fellow mountain climbers.


Cheers, SheldonOfOsaka.


P.S. I have finally joined X (formerly Twitter), please follow me here.


If you're into that kind of thing...

Addendum by Mayur Gondhalekar

Prior to the start of the Japan Chess Championship 2024, late Mr. Gentaro Gonda who passed away in 2022, was honoured and commemorated. Mr. Gentaro Gonda won the Japan Chess Championship a total of 12 times between 1972 and 2001. He represented Japan in World Championship Zone 10 once, and in the Chess Olympiad four times. Additionally he was 11-time Japan Open Champion, 4-time All Japan Senior Champion, 3-time All Japan Rapid champion, 8-time Tokyo Open champion and 6-time Japan Best 100 champion. He was posthumously, the first to be inducted into Japan Chess Hall of Fame in 2024.

Late Mr. Gentaro Gonda’s wife made the ceremonial first move at Japan Chess Championship 2024 | Photo: Mayur Gondhalekar

Round 3: Rushad Patil - Matsunaga Toma: 0-1 | Photo: Mayur Gondhalekar

An arbiter’s checks – proper board placement, Kings on e1 and e8, clocks set correctly and white’s lever raised | Photo: Mayur Gondhalekar

Time at the end of one of the games… with a start time of 90 minutes + 30 seconds per move from move 1 | Photo: Mayur Gondhalekar

Myself as Deputy Chief Arbiter - and the room I am managing at that time | Photo: Mayur Gondhalekar

Toma vs Sheldon - Sheldon's moment of reckoning | Photo: Mayur Gondhalekar

Round 2: Sheldon Donaldson - Mirai Ishizuka: 0.5-0.5 | Photo: Mayur Gondhalekar

The playing hall (smaller room) | Photo: Mayur Gondhalekar

Round 2: Naohiro Nakamura - Sheldon Donaldson: 1-0 | Photo: Mayur Gondhalekar

Japan's women olympiad team member Melody Takayasu playing with the black pieces | Photo: Mayur Gondhalekar

The playing hall (smaller room) | Photo: Mayur Gondhalekar

Cup for winner | Photo: Mayur Gondhalekar

Argentinian Honey | Photo: Mayur Gondhalekar

About the Author

SheldonOfOsaka is a 42-year-old chess player originally from Canada, who has lived in Japan for the past 13 years; he took up chess 10 years ago, but only began to play over-the-board tournaments last year.

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